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Mitchell "An Ideal Man for the Job"

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While some are questioning the appointment of George Mitchell as a special envoy to the Middle East on the grounds that he will be too objective and balanced, but if peace is your objective then Obama could not have picked a better person. His efforts in Northern Ireland were exceptional. Mitchell was lauded for his patience and objectivity and moved a process through years of negotiations that resulted in one of the most innovative peace agreements in history.

Both sides of the conflict view him with the utmost respect. On his appointment as envoy to the Mideast the Belfast Telegraph editorialized:

There can hardly be a person on the planet who is better qualified for this complex and sensitive role. Senator Mitchell is a modest man, but he is regarded deservedly as one of the heroes of the Northern Ireland peace process. At a time when the outlook seemed particularly bleak, George Mitchell demonstrated patience, courage and a painstaking attention to detail as he tried to break the impasse...One of his greatest assets was to create trust with people on all sides in a much-troubled Northern Ireland. Few of the participants in the political process trusted each other, but they all trusted George Mitchell, and he became the essential catalyst in the development of a most unlikely peace process...There is no guarantee of success for George Mitchell, but if there is anyone in the world who can make a difference, he is the most likely statesman to do so. He deserves every encouragement.


Now his past success in Northern Ireland does not mean that this will be easily replicated. But the challenges that posed a successful resolution of the Northern Ireland conflict were in some ways greater than they are in the Middle East. Mitchell had to usher through an incredibly complicated agreement that had to enable peaceful co-habitation of the warring parties and establish innovative ways to overlap Northern Ireland's sovereignty with the Republic and with the UK.  Not only did achieving peace in Northern Ireland require getting Protestants and Catholics to live peaceably together, but required getting them to govern together - ie Martin McGuiness a former IRA gunman worked on education policy with Ian Paisley. At least, Mitchell doesn't have to get Netanyahu to form a government with Hamas leader Ismail Haniya. And at least in the Middle East both sides generally know what the final terms of a peace agreement will be - partition into two distinct states. 

Mitchell's challenge isn't so much getting to "yes" on an agreement but merely getting to the table. While in Ireland all sides were exhausted and were willing to take bold steps to begin negotiations - such as John Major quietly dropping the UK's vow not to "negotiate with terrorists" and beginning talks with Sinn Fein and Sinn Fein's acceptance of a status short of a united Ireland - in the Middle East the split between Hamas and Fatah, Israel's refusal to negotiate with Hamas, and Hamas' refusal to move down from its maximalist stance means simply getting to the table with all relevant players seems almost impossible. So Mitchell's job over the next few years in terms of the peace process seems less about getting to "yes" and more about trying to rekindle momentum for peace that could eventually serve to push the parties to the negotiating table.

It's a hell of challenge, but Mitchell is the man to give it a go.